President Trump's business empire has long been a family affair and now his White House appears to be headed in the same direction. But what worked in building his personal fortune may not help his political fortunes.

Trump's old glitz and glamor brand has been repealed and replaced with a vaguely right-wing populist one. Whatever the advantages of the former in pursuing a mass television audience, it is the latter that got him elected president.

Like the old "Conventional Wisdom Watch" feature in Newsweek, the arrow next to son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is pointing upward and the arrow beside top strategist and house ideologue Stephen Bannon is pointing downward.

Kushner has been pictured in Iraq wearing a bulletproof vest, looking like a Cabinet officer or even a young president rallying the troops. Bannon has been on the wrong side of some unpleasant public barbs from Trump.

Trump described Bannon in an interview with the Wall Street Journal as a "guy who works for me" while the president himself is his own "strategist." That follows similarly dismissive comments to the New York Post's Michael Goodwin.

"I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late," the president said. "I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn't know Steve. I'm my own strategist and it wasn't like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary."


All this comes as Trump has slowly but unmistakably gestured toward becoming a more conventional president: missile strikes in Syria justified on internationalist grounds, Russia rhetoric more grounded in the bipartisan Washington consensus, conciliatory moves toward both NATO and China.

There's a rough logic to it. Trump initially sided with the nationalists, who are generally the least governmentally experienced people in his administration if also the most distinctly Trumpist, and got burned on his first travel ban. Then he sided with the movement conservatives and establishment Republicans, the most governmentally experienced people within his orbit, and they could not work together to deliver on Obamacare repeal or (so far) tax reform.

Now the president is following the instincts that served him so well inside Trump Tower and turning toward Kushner and his daughter Ivanka, who are centrists at best and limousine liberals at worst.

This has led some to conclude that there is no such thing as Trumpism, only Trump. Then there are others, like Joe Scarborough, who maintain that Trump has the nationalism beat covered on his own and doesn't need anyone like Bannon.

"Donald Trump has been saying this for 30 years and Steve Bannon is trying to sell it ... and for some reason reporters in Washington have bought it," Scarborough said. Exhibit A is a 1987 interview with NBC's "Today" in which the future president sounds very Trumpist on his own.

­"This country is a great country but we are a debtor nation," Trump said. "We borrow money from Japan in order to defend Japan and we pay interest on that money and I think it's just ridiculous. The country, the United States, is being ripped off and it shouldn't happen."

Trump said all the way back then that if he ever ran for office, he would do something about these foreigners who are taking advantage of Americans.

It is possible to imagine a universe in which Trump got elected as some kind of New York Rockefeller Republican. He flirted with such a candidacy when he almost ran against Pat Buchanan for the 2000 Reform Party nomination and certainly did well with the surviving liberal Republicans in the primaries.

But the plain fact is that Trump did not get elected as an innocuous, can-do, pragmatic centrist. He is president because fewer than 80,000 people in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin voted for him, a small raw number but a big swing toward the Republicans in those states compared to 2012.

Trump would have lost running as the more conventional Mitt Romney and he can't turn himself into the more liberal George Romney now because those voters are no longer available to him after nearly two years in national politics.

Yet without Bannon-like figures in the White House, emulating a Romney becomes two of his only three options.

The third option is to embrace populism as a pose, retaining the "America First" rhetoric while governing as either a New York Democrat or Vice President Pence Republican.

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Perhaps a Carrier deal a day could keep electoral disaster away, relying heavily on Trump's show business acumen. It will nevertheless be hard to retain all of the Rust Belt voters who gravitated toward him without being substantively different from a normal Republican administration in at least some way.

Bannon — or someone like him — is the key to that substance. Otherwise, Trump will simply complain about trade deals to no effect.

If Trump instead decided to continue keeping up with the Kushners, he will risk even the theatrical performance. Jared and Ivanka do not merely want to pursue centrist or even center-left policies under a populist veneer. They seem to desire that Trump gain a certain respectability that would be offensive to his white working-class voters.

Trump without Trumpism could probably tread water with his fervent base for a while. But the project would ultimately run into trouble.

"People thought they were voting for Ross Perot or Pat Buchanan," writes CBS News' Will Rahn. "Instead they're getting Mike Bloomberg."

Good luck selling that in rural Pennsylvania.